Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Best of 2015

If the Big Fat Quiz of the Year is on, it must be that time of our annual journey around the sun: the time to look back and reflect on out triumphs and disasters over the past twelve months and promise ourselves that, no, we're not going to do THAT again. It's also the time of year for those irritating 'best of' lists which leave the reader cold and the writer frustrated.

I wasn't going to do one this time out. But, as I've written little and consumed plenty this year, it seems the ideal chance to sum up the best - and worst - of the year.

Film of the Year

No prizes for guessing this one. Although Avengers: Age of Ultron was great fun and Bridge of Spies was a good, engrossing film, if the new Star Wars was any good, it was always going to be my film of the year. I've seen it three times in a fortnight. That probably answers the question about whether it's any good. No spoilers, though. If you haven't seen it: see it.

Game of the Year

In the running for this are a few titles. For the first time in quite a while - possibly as a result of spending most of my reading time consuming material for my dissertation, making reading a little less fun - I spent quite a bit of my downtime playing video games. In February I treated myself to a 3DS XL so I could finally play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. I still haven't finished it at the time of writing (though I'm up to the Spirit Temple), but it has been a cracking experience. I also got a PS4 and spent a significant amount of time on Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 - it's probably the best title since Pro Evo 6, with second flights appearing on the game at long last.

Completed titles were Final Fantasy X HD and Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner HD, both on the PS3, while the likes of Civilisation V got a good play on the Mac. Also played were NHL 10, International Cricket 2010 and Virtua Tennis 3. Although I have played on a few others, it's not fair to compare them as I've not got fully to grips with Destiny and Star Wars: Battlefront yet.

Ocarina of Time just about wins in this category. In some ways it hasn't dated well, but it remains an engrossing game.

Novel of the Year

Where in years gone by I would be able to break down the novels I read into a number of categories, this year has been a difficult one. Novels have been in a minority of books I've read (or, at least, it's felt that way at times). The best new novel I read was Robin Hobb's Fool's Assassin, the continuation of the tale of FitzChivalry Farseer, protagonist of the Assassin and Fool books. It's not quite as good as its forebears, but it improves immeasurably on the Rain Wild Chronicles. And 'not quite as good' Hobb still outstrips the overwhelming majority of other writers as her characters shine through.

History Book of the Year

If it was tough to pick a winner out of the novels I read, it was much less tough to pick a (very clear) winner out of the histories I picked up this year. Richard J. Evans' The Coming of the Third Reich is a magisterial history. Running to over 600 pages, it's the definitive history of the emergence of the Nazi Party in Germany and the circumstances leading to their seizure of power in 1933. It's the sort of book that combines exceptional scholarship from a writer utterly in command of their source material with a powerful narrative told through compelling prose. Evans' books are always worth reading (his critique of postmodernism, In Defence of History, is one of the most compelling texts on historiography I've come across and is probably as much of a subject primer as E.H. Carr is these days), and in his Nazi Germany trilogy he's at his imperious best.

Football Match of the Year

From a footballing point of view, 2015 has been a bit of a disappointment. I've not played as much as I would like through a combination of being too busy for my own good and recurring injuries, and Chris Powell's tenure as Huddersfield Town manager produced too many non-events on Saturday afternoons. A 1-0 defeat to Reading in the FA Cup stands out as being probably the worst game of the year - one shot on target from either side all afternoon. On the other hand, a 4-4 draw with Derby County was football at its very best, both sides attacking and scoring some great goals. Here's to a prosperous 2016 under David Wagner and an injury-free year providing me with the chance to score some Thursday night goals.

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